Eager to lure Oriental shoppers, one southwestern supermarket sponsored a dragon dance in its parking lot, while another store in the same area courted Cuban Catholic residents by hanging a $500,000 painting of "The Last Supper" on the premises.
Similarly, a large chain in the Midwest mounted a campaign to attract senior citizen shoppers by offering smaller packages and cans of food.
These are examples of what supermarkets are doing to reach today's shopping public, a diverse group including singles, dual-income households, males, older shoppers and ethnics influenced by vastly different life styles, behavior and attitudes.
Valarie A. Zeithaml, a consumer researcher, and other speakers here at the annual convention of the Food Marketing Institute agree that the homogeneous family unit is a thing of the past.
"Twenty years ago, the profile of the primary household food shopper would have been relatively easy to describe," Zeithaml said. "She was female. She did not work outside the home. She was quite possibly the mother of several children."
But today, the shopper is likely to be older than she used to be, Zeithaml said. "She is more likely to be single. She has a one-in-two chance of working outside the home. And, now more than ever, she may be a he."
According to the most recent census, only 13 percent of all U.S. households contain families with children where the wife stays home. The remaining 87 percent consist of childless couples, singles, families with working wives or the elderly.
Jane Armstrong, vice president in charge of consumer affairs for Jewel Food Stores, based in Melrose Park, Ill., said her company has launched special promotions to reach blacks, Hispanics, Jews and senior citizens as a result of the changing demographics.
"Because most seniors are living in one- to two-person households, portion and package sizes are a big concern," Armstrong said "So we've made a special effort to offer smaller-size packages in both perishable and dry groceries."
She said that Jewel has expanded its line of eight-ounce cans, developed miniloaves of bread in its fresh bake shops, made available more one- and two-chop packages in the meat department, and maintained a policy of selling packages containing one or two rolls, cookies or pastries.
Martin J. Friedman, editor of Dancer Fitzgerald Sample's New Product News, told one FMI workshop that the nationwide fitness craze has made "nutritional" products the most successful overall new product category. He cited the "fantastic" sales of various "light" products, from lower-calorie beer and soft drinks to low-tar cigarettes.
Other products that benefit from the fitness movement are foods that are low in sodium, fat, cholesterol or caffein. At the same time, there is a major trend toward more ethnic food, especially upscale ethnic food, which Friedman dubbed "gourmetizing" of ethnic foods.